A Call to Humanism
A letter to my fellow humans,
Names can be deceiving.
Earlier this year there was a suggestion from some citizens of the United States that preventing Muslims from entering the country would we be a good response to current threats against the American people. It has bothered me so tremendously over the last few months that I’ve felt tormented. Recently, I had an epiphany and I though I’d share my moment of clarity.
Islam scares that crap out of me. Christianity also scares the crap out of me. Basically any time someone holds superstitious beliefs, I feel uneasy. The words of Voltaire echo in the halls as the world conflicts with ISIS:
“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”
I felt tormented because I fear the ideologies of Christianity and Islam (and many other religions), yet have so many deeply religious friends that I know and trust. When I bring up my concerns about Christianity’s tenets (which are, in fact, Abrahamic and, in part, shared amongst the Judaism and Islam), they emphatically explain that those things are part of the texts but not practiced by Christians in current times. Case in point: I have no Christian friends that believe it is okay (under any circumstances) to own other human beings. It turns out, however, that each Christian I know practices their Christianity in a way that is unique. This is true for every religious person: the practice of their religion is unique to their person — even if they strive to model it after another.
When you think about this, it is obviously true. It is as true as each human being’s perception of the world around them is as unique as they are. Given this truth, being “Christian” or “Muslim” or “Jewish” (or any other religion) is horribly vague. I’ve struggled with this basic problem for some time. If someone says they are Muslim, do they believe that other religions should convert, subjugate or die? If someone is Christian or Jewish, do they believe that it is acceptable to hand over another human being to be ravished… under any circumstances? The general answer is a resounding “no.” But, sadly, not a universal “no.”
For a long time I’ve tried to understand what my fellow citizens believe and have been lost in a labyrinth of nuance and subtleties. I’ve also found (at least within my circle of friends) that as I discover new facets of their belief systems, whether I disagree or not, the disagreement is not one that would rupture trust or cause fear. Yet I remain afraid… afraid of ideology. After much reflection, what I’m actually afraid isn’t what an ideology is, but rather what it isn’t. Any ideology that doesn’t embrace humanism is what scares me.
This realization about humanism and my religious friends was my epiphany. My Christian friends and my Muslim friends and my Jewish friends (and…. well, my friends) are whatever they are and they are humanists. What do I mean by this? I will define humanism in a way that is utterly simplified (and may be disagreeable to some), but this is my epiphany so…. cope.
Humanism is realizing that any of one’s moral or ethical inner-workings must support and not conflict with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights codified in 1948. It turns out that the vast majority of my peers support the UDHR and as such are Humanists (even if they’ve never really thought about it). All of the parts of these religions that I don’t understand and (more importantly) the discrepancies in the way they are practiced results in a fear that completely evaporates under the commitment to never interpret one’s religion in a way that violates the UDHR. All of my religious friends describe a God that, in my naive understanding, would establish no teachings that would conflict with the value and freedoms of humans (of which the UDHR does an admirable job of outlining).
More specifically, my epiphany is this: if all of the world’s religious people (scratch that, non-religious people as well) would read the UDHR and, if they agree, take the incredibly bold step to change the way they describe themselves.
Here is my charge. I realize my voice may not be loud enough, but if you agree, perhaps our voices together can be loud enough to change the landscape.
My Christian friends can proudly call themselves Christian Humanists.
My Muslim friends can proudly call themselves Muslim Humanists.
My Jewish friends can proudly call themselves Jewish Humanists.
My Hindu friends can proudly call themselves Hindu Humanists.
My Atheists friends can proudly call them Atheist Humanists (or just Humanists).
… you get my point.
If you can in good conscious add this word, it will not diminish your faith in any way while crystalizing your commitment to humanity in concise and understandable terms.
We talk a lot about the value of tolerance. The bottom line is that I’m not tolerant. I will not tolerate slavery, I will not tolerate punishment for apostasy, I will not tolerate rape. I aim, in my heart of hearts, to be intolerant of any human rights transgression of one human by another. However, if you tell me that you practice your religion in a way that supports and does not conflict with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then I’ll be quite tolerant of your beliefs — whatever they may be. The beauty of Humanism is that it isn’t a religion; it is merely a social contract that grants every human being rights and commits to that contract to resolve conflicts.
Circling back to the statement by some American citizens that Muslims should be disallowed from entering. I would welcome any immigrants that are Muslim Humanists (or any type of Humanist), they would be a fantastic addition to the American populace and I would welcome them with open arms.
My friends that, even upon reflection, cannot… well… we have a problem.